Sunday, 29 July 2012

Friend for dinner.

So, a quick blast back up through the Peloponnese (forever know known as ‘the Ploppers) would see us either having a free stopover at Ancient Korinthos or we would boot straight through to our next destination – Athina! Been looking forward to a bit of hustle and bustle, just for old times sake. We decided to commit the ultimate sin of the long-term-van-traveller and get on the recently built superhighway toll road (frowned upon in the new circles we move in; ‘So, did you take the stunning coastal back road that brought you through ancient blah blah and get a real sense of what a struggle it must be for the people that live there?’. ‘No, we blasted up the motorway, got a ham and cheese baguette from a service station and didn’t see a bloody thing…. smooth road though’).

Now we appreciate that Greece is having a bit of a hard time, and that you have to make the most of your tourist industry, but boy did they make us pay for taking the quick route back north: toll after toll after toll, and not cheap either.

We’d pay one lot of money, and think that was it, only to get 40k up the road to hit another toll. What!? Why?? Why are we bloody paying again!!?? We’ve only just paid misery-guts back down the road for this!! To make matters more stomach-ulcer-inducing infuriating we were stung with big truck charges. Everywhere else in Europe we’re classed as a car but for some reason not on this road. ‘Why?’ I asked a particularly walrus looking toll both trickster. ‘It’s the height of your vehicle, very high’. ‘WHAT”S THAT GOT TO DO WITH ANYTHING!!?? The air is free up there, there’s no road and you haven’t had to pay to supply the air that the top of the bus moves through!! I’m on the road, the strip of tarmac below the van and we’re only taking up a small bit of it!! ‘It’s the height’. Oh well, not much you can do but yes I/we felt particularly aggrieved by the charges (as anyone bothering to read this can probably tell). Saying that, one thing we’ve noticed which is rather sad and probably an indication of the severe economic cutbacks that Greece has had to implement is that a lot of road building appears to have been abandoned. I guess there isn’t the money to finish certain big projects so tolls are understandable. We’ve seen some new motorways that stop at a point, just leading into a field, or others that have newly erected directional signs with the name of a town/city crossed through as the exit junction hasn’t been built. Or, everyone could just be on holiday, hard to tell.

Due to the cost of the road (which was ultimately expensive but bloody convenient) we decided to push on through to Athens as coming off at Ancient Korinthos would have meant paying to get back onto the motorway again the next day. We’d researched and pre-booked a campsite in Athens (the imaginatively named ‘Camping Athens’) that was near to town and offered the fairly cheap vehicle storage that we’d been looking for. But, by going straight there we’d arrive a day earlier than planned. Would they be able to fit us in?? It’s bound to be packed what with it being July and near central Athens. We’ll go for it. If they can’t fit us in we’ll just have to run the risk of parking up somewhere in Athens and sleep in the van whilst all the rioting and carnage, raping, pillaging, burning of buildings and the collapse of civilised society as we know it went on around us.

Our enthusiastic arrival was met with a surly ‘you’re a day late’; we were actually a day early thus providing them with more business. ‘No no, we’re a day early’. ‘No, you’re a day late’. ‘No, really, we’re a day early, I sent you an e-mail and everything, open it up, check it out, we’re definitely a day early. ‘I don’t forget a thing, a day late’. This continued for sometime leading us to think that we’d lost the one place in Athens that we really needed and that our plans were, like the city itself, up in flames. ‘Anyway’ I said, ‘never mind about that, can you fit us in still…..? ‘Sure, we’re empty’.

Empty wasn’t actually empty. There was one other vehicle, a brilliant looking old Merc, which we noticed on the large site as we walked around with the camp owner looking for a suitable pitch. Huge site, loads of places to choose from… could have parked anywhere. ‘You go here’. ‘What, right next to the only one other van you have on the whole site?’ ‘Yes’. ‘Err, that’s a little close don’t you think, shouldn’t we give them some space like?’. ‘No, you go here, nice and windy’. Not a breeze in the air, nothing to cool the now extreme Athenian heat.

We couldn’t be bothered to argue but we both felt a little guilty as we brought the van around and parked it right next to the only other vehicle for miles around, clearly disturbing a fella sat outside his vehicle busying himself at his laptop. As we stopped in the pitch he looked up and said, ‘hey, your van looks nice and level there’ (that’s van owner speak) and we jumped out to say hello. Quick introductions and I said I’d go and get a cold beer from the camp shop for Helen and I. ‘No need!’ said our new neighbour as he produced an ice cold Mythos from his fridge for us. What luck again, what a lovely couple we’d just pulled up beside. Peter and Veronique - and their awesome self-converted beast of an ex-German Army van ‘Carl’ - from the Netherlands. Genuinely an awesome couple to meet.

As an aside; Helen and I have gotten used to, but bored of, talking about our trip to other people. We go through the same old routine sometimes. We’ll end up chatting to someone on a site somewhere and conversation will inevitably turn to travel plans. ‘So, how long are you away for?’ we’ll be asked. ‘Oh, ah, 12 months or so’ our slightly embarrassed response. ‘You?’ ‘Arrr, onlys ze two weeks’ will come the reply - usually through a bitter grimace and as we stand in awkward silence watching as the persons enthusiastically inflated dinosaur rubber ring deflates as they answer, letting out a whine as it does so…

Not this time!! Finally and bloody thankfully we got out-tripped!!! YES!! No need for travel guilt!! Turns out Peter and Veronique had set off on a journey much like ours - leaving a certain lifestyle behind with only loose plans and ideas ahead of them - but they are being far more intrepid. They are slowly making their way to Australia - sometimes in Carl, sometimes on bicycle when necessary - and will be travelling until late 2013. Good on them. We all spent a lovely evening/late night discussing the usual topics of conversations for people on the road for this length of time; routes, borders, places to see, hopes, absent friends, the absurd love you develop for your vehicle… toilet arrangements. If you get the chance to read this Peter & Veronique (and Carl) we wish you all the very best on your long inspirational journey and hope you travel safely. Please do let us know how you get on with your Chinese chaperone! We’ll of course be keeping track of your trek via your blog even if we don’t understand a word of it as it’s written in Dutch. Veel succes!!

A new day and a helpless new arrival! What dribbles, has trouble standing up on its own two legs and can often be seen wearing a nappy? Yes! It’s Matty George!!

Matt is the first of our friends to make the journey out to see us and we were really looking forward to seeing a familiar face, even if it was his. We’d arranged to pick Matt up from the airport in the van but decided we couldn’t be bothered. So we gave him some lame excuse about keeping the fridge cool that Matt, being very gullible, easily swallowed. Our new rendezvous point was Egaleo tube station not far the campsite. We had a little trouble finding it at first so Helen politely approached a gentlemen on the street and asked for the metro. Nothing, no response, no blink or twitch or anything, just a steely fierce death stare. ‘Metro?’ Helen repeated. Nothing. ‘Err, metro?’ she asked nervously for a third time only to be met with the same severe expression. Shit, he’s gonna attack Helen. ‘Ahhhh Metroo’ he suddenly smiled. Come on man, it’s not a huge leap from ‘metro’ to ‘metroo’!! We’ve subsequently found out that ‘metro’ means ‘metre’ in Greece so he might have though Helen was asking him the length of something, can’t think what.

We excitedly waited at the station for the arrival of our buddy but no sign for a while and it was really hot that day. After a bit of a mix up with where we had agreed to meet here was our first visitor, Matt, who had come suitably dressed for the 40-degree heat in thick cords, a heavy shirt and a backpack the weight of a dead pig strapped to his back.

We’d all planned to go Island hopping for a week or so and with tickets booked for the stupidly early ferry to Milos the next morning we caught up over a drink or two and settled in for an early(ish) night. Up and about when no sane person would be we caught our Superjet to the lovely island of Milos. Only a two-hour crossing on one of these fast things but you always run the risk of it turning into a river of vomit sourced from the feebler seafarer but mercifully this was a lovely smooth crossing.

Helen and I had never been to Milos; Matt had, but he didn’t mention it once. We took a taxi up to the lovely little fishing village of Pollonia and to Andreas Apartments where we’d booked to stay. Lovely little village and a great apartment that was surrounded on three sides by three very different beaches.
This was a particularly windy part of the island and as a consequence resulted in quite a swell. So, we spent most of our time bobbing up and down in the huge waves, snorkelling, getting dragged along large stoned beaches whilst trying to get out of the water in inappropriate flippers and losing our brand new snorkelling pipe to the heavy waters. We also set off on one of those longer than intended ‘Stand By Me’ type journey-of-life walks that is less about the scenery more about discovering what you are made of and eventually found ourselves scrabbling in flips-flops across Milos’ stunning volcanic coastline in 40 degree heat, lost, alone and unprepared with only our severe dehydration and circling hawks to keep us company. Being hardy souls we eventually made it to the main town of Adamas and crawling on all fours, sunburnt and parched we just about summoned up the strength to reach sanctuary.. ‘frappe…must…have….frappe…no milk…, one sugar…’ before collapsing.

One of the highlights of Milos was a beautiful meal that Matt and Helen cooked using the vegetables given to us by Andreas from his garden. He also gave us some fantastic goats cheese for free but we did have to watch as he anxiously moulded this into the shape of a bum whilst encouraging us to take a boat trip. Odd fellow.

Three days completed at Milos and up really early again for the short hop to Paros that took 7 hours for some reason. We were met by a scrum of desperate looking studio/hotel owners vying for business at the Paros port town of Parikia, a clear indication of how the number of tourists is down this year. With the knowledge that this would be the case we hadn’t bothered to book any accommodation and after a short search we’d managed to secure a lovely apartment in the old town that should have cost 145 Euros a night for just 50.

Paros, like Milos, was pretty quiet during our time there. You’ve got to feel for Greece. Numbers really are down this year and it’s such a beautiful place to travel, perfect in every way, that it’s a crying shame to see some businesses on the precipice of closure leading to an intense competition for custom. Undoubtedly prices are higher for some things - eating and drinking out and, oddly, toiletries – than we’ve experienced on previous visits but if you cook your own food and mix up the odd beer out with buying from a supermarket you can still have a reasonably cheap trip in the most stunning setting. Aside from fewer people and some increase in costs we can’t say that we’ve noticed a huge difference in atmosphere. There’s still the fantastic vibe of your Greek hosts zeal to ensure you have a great time, and lots of free watermelon.

So again we had a fairly relaxing time at Paros and it felt like we all needed it for one reason or another. You can’t go out and get blottoed as drinks cost too much, 10 euros per drink in most places for spirits/cocktails, but we did have a wicked night out with the owner of a restaurant who befriended us as we were his only customers. Greek hospitality being what it is he ended up giving us free alcohol to a value higher than the tip we left him.

Parikia is a brilliant place for a few nights stay and our time was spent either wandering around the old town in the evening or in the daytime searching out the best swimming & snorkelling locations, local and further afield. This led us to make the short-hop to Anti-Paros one day on the local ferry. Again, a truly beautiful place that was only marred by our decision to hire beat up old mountain bikes and cycle everywhere. Only Matt, Helen and I will ever know what we went through that day, there are no words to describe our pain, but we did eventually find what we were after right at the bottom of Anti-Paros. Before us was the most stunning empty little bay with crystal clear waters for excellent snorkelling and one of those typically Greek tiny white and blue churches on it . We had a right laugh watching each other take turns to dive down to the fissures in the rocks attempting to tease brightly coloured fish out of their hiding places. Awesome day, awesome fun. Until the previously mentioned race against time, want to forget, ride back to the port.

As you may know Helen and I had to leave our beloved cat Rita behind when we set out on our trip (Reets, if you’re reading this, we miss you girl) so we’ve taken to feeding strays and waifs along the way not thinking that we’d seriously consider catnapping anything and taking it with us but man have we just had our resolve seriously tested. Sat one day on our ground floor veranda when ‘What the bloody hell is this!? ‘Have you seen this cat!!? Allow us to introduce ‘Hoxton’, so named because of his fine, sophisticated Salvador Dali-esque tache that made him look like a bit of a Shoreditch twat. Awesome little fella that hung around the whole time the three of us were there. We all took great delight in surreptitiously feeding him under the nose of the owners who’d explicitly asked us not to. How can you not feed a cat with a tache?? We were so close to taking him with us just in case he didn’t get the food and care he needs but with facial hair like his we’re sure he’ll be fine.

One last ferry journey to return to Athens and a lovely final night together spent having a meal in town and a marvel at the Acropolis, all lit up.

That’s it for now. A long blog entry as we’ve been away from a PC for a while. We’d just like to thank Matt for taking the time to come and see us, for the hilarious time we all spent together and for the fantastic, brilliantly apt, pictures he took of us mostly without our knowing.

So, back in Athens and back to just to two of us. ‘Hang, on, who is this who has just wandered onto the campsite?’ It’s only our local Greece Correspondent, Ms Liambey!!

I wonder where we can all go and hang out together…

1 comment:

  1. Rita sends her love and would be quite jealous of Hoxton if she didn't feel that her alternative billet provides her with enough of the many comforts she needs although NOT IN ENOUGH QUANTITY...yes, the vet told us to put her on a diet which means she wakes us at 5.00 wanting to be fed and basically thinks we are sadists who take pleasure in her hunger pangs..actually she is fine (she's sitting by the laptop as I write this) and sends you both lots of purrs (and a few scratches)..